There’s a reason why so-called “natural” wines are making such a big impression these days. Mostly, it’s an indication of the overall trend for foods and lifestyles that are closer to the earth, non-GMO products, all-natural ingredients, yoga and the like.
One Southwest Floridian is betting the farm (so to speak) on the quality and appeal of natural wines. He’s Peter Rizzo, and his new store, Natural Wines Naples, is educating both seasoned wine lovers and newbies to the flavors and appeal of natural wines.
First, let’s figure out what natural wines really are.
Basically, natural wines are made in the purest, simplest way possible. The vineyards are organic or even biodynamic. The winemakers use only naturally occurring yeasts to induce fermentation; there’s no addition of other yeast strains. And the winemaking is what’s known as “non-interventionist,” which means no filtering, no additives, no manipulation.
“These wines have a place on every wine lover’s shelf,” Mr. Rizzo says. “They’re very expressive, and a lot more interesting than wines made in a more commercial manner. I really believe in this.”
And so do I, after the tasting session we shared.
Even though natural wines are something of uncharted territory for most of us, there are plenty of reasons to get to know them.
These winemakers believe that great wine is made in the vineyard. The growing areas are free from any insecticides, pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals. The wines are made without any additives — no extra acid or flavoring compounds, no industrial yeasts or enzymes. And they have extremely minimal sulfur content. There’s no weird manipulation, like micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis or concentrators.
The result: wines that are alive, that express a sense of place and that improve — quickly — with time.
As you might expect, vineyard yields are low, so quantities are not very high.
Mr. Rizzo, who spent most of his career in advertising, relocated with his family to Naples in 2002 and opened Natural Wines Naples just a few months ago. Since then, he’s seen a steady increase in interest and in store traffic.
While some natural wines are made from fairly exotic out-of-the-way varietals (I saw a bottle of Romortin and Orbois blend), you’d recognize the vast majority of wines in Mr. Rizzo’s extensive selection.
“I need to show people classic representations,” he believes. “Even though many makers of natural wines push the envelope with nontraditional varietals, we have all the classic wines, and all the classic flavors.
“Just because a wine is natural, it doesn’t sacrifice the familiar taste profiles we all enjoy.”
He makes sure of that, with extensive descriptions of each wine’s flavor and aroma profiles on bottle tags that he handwrites. And he’s especially proud of the fact that he offers interesting choices in all price ranges.
“There’s nothing rare or exotic about natural wines,” he says. “You might be surprised to see some bottles with crown caps on them instead of corks, and we do have some wines made from grapes you might not be familiar with, but you’ll find all your favorites here, with many priced under $20.”
He was kind enough to offer me samples in several price ranges, and the quality was striking. Here are some we especially enjoyed:
¦ Les Quarterons Sancerre 2013 ($30) – A sweet floral nose, completely unlike traditional Sauvignon Blanc from this region of New Zealand, with flavors of apple, peach and quince. WW 90.
¦ Skeveldra Sancerre 2012 ($42) – Absolutely zero sulfites in this zippy, fragrant version with exotic floral, lemon, apricot and vanilla aromas and flavors. I’ve never decanted a white wine, but I’d give this one an hour or two in the glass before sipping. WW 91.
¦ Donkey & Goat White Blend California 2014 ($35) – As mentioned above, some makers of natural wines stray a bit off the reservation. This boldly structured white is a blend of Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul and a few other northern Rhone varietals with interesting flavors of red apple peel, yellow peach and cantaloupe. WW 92.
Ask the Wine Whisperer
Q: How is natural wine different from organic wine?
— Scott F., Naples
A: Organic wines, while made from organically grown grapes, can still be manipulated technologically or chemically during the winemaking process. In a way, all wine is organic, but not all organic wine is natural. ¦
— Jerry Greenfield is the Wine Whisperer. He is also the creative director of Greenfield Advertising Group. Find his book, “Secrets of the Wine Whisperer,” on Amazon or at www.winewhisperer.com, where his other writings are also available.